Bexley Grammar School’s Afro Caribbean Society (ACS) was started in 2018 by a group of year 12 girls who suggested setting up the ACS as a student-led society. In its initial form they ran meetings one lunchtime a week and took turns bringing different home-made food along to a discussion group. This then led to them running a very popular food stall at the school’s Summer Fayre. The society grew to much greater prominence in 2020 after the murder of George Floyd and was heavily involved in leading the school with Black Lives Matter. A member of staff who supports the group said that this event ignited a fire within the students to ensure that their voices were being heard and acted on. Students wanted to create a safe space for black students to share their personal experiences and find a sense of community in an environment where they were a minority. Under the leadership of a year 13 student the ACS developed a leadership structure and began to involve more students from across the school.
The student-led Afro Caribbean Society has become a place that, in the spirit of the legacy, brings students together. Leaders of the group describe themselves as a family. Elvis, Ifunanya, Rhianna, Bradley and Oluwalano, current ACS committee members, are proud of the supportive community they and their peers have created and are successfully sustaining. When students refer to the growth of the group they are not just talking about how many students show up for sessions and activities. They are thinking about how well the group works and learns together and get things done and how much they have developed as individuals and team.
Inclusion is more than just a buzzword for students leading the ACS. Their commitment to diversity and inclusion is striking and they emphasise that the ACS is there for everyone. Students are determined that the ACS should be a focal point for open discourse about race equity and fostering a more inclusive and just society. They strongly believe that encouraging a variety of viewpoints will enrich the school community.
At the start of this academic year a significant decision was made by the committee to rename the group the Multi-Cultural Society. The change was intended to make everyone feel welcome and highlight the group’s commitment to diversity. This worked, attracting a more significant number of KS4 and 5 students to weekly sessions. Not everyone however was on board with the name change. The committee quickly found themselves learning a lesson in change management and having to address resistance. The outcome was a reverting to the group’s original title of Afro Caribbean Society. Members of the group were adamant that this title best reflected their original aims and purpose. When speaking about this one student quoted his mother who said, “If you don’t home in on one thing you can lose the sense of everything.” Identifying as the Afro Caribbean Society has not affected increasing attendance at society meetings and the group continues to thrive.
Readiness to bring about change, efficiency, and organisation are key factors in the ACS’s success. The way students work together is impressive. The president, VP, meetings manager, ambassadors and other committee members hold structured meetings weekly to plan themes and topics or sessions attended by the broader student community. Their attention right now is on Black History Month during which, they will be taking assemblies and raising awareness of the importance of hair in the black community. Positively promoting and celebrating Black British history and the achievements of people of Afro Caribbean heritage in the UK is something the group is passionate about.
Last year the ACS held its first gala. This was entirely planned and delivered by the students calling on the support of staff where needed. It was an event some thought would not succeed. The students persevered and the gala turned out to be a massive success. It featured performances, rap, and a special guest appearance by famous YouTuber Tobi Brown who was a former student at the school. The committee members feel that the event has given the ACS a higher profile and helped to enhance the reputation of the school.
The ACS engages students across the school community through a range of activities. These include debates and quizzes. They organise non-uniform days, bake sales and open mic sessions to fundraise. Last year, events like this, and ticket sales from the gala raised £1500 which was donated to the group’s chosen charity, the Sickle Cell Society. Students pledged their support for this charity, aware of the lesser known impact of sickle cell on the Black community. The society has also donated to Access UK (African Caribbean Careers and Employment Support Services) as it supports Black and minority ethnic youth.
Next week the ACS launches its podcast series. The podcast, which they are calling “To the misinformed”, will tackle topics and issues raised by students who attend ACS sessions. These include themes like mental health, women’s health, pregnancy, cultural appropriation and appreciation. Students are being proactive. They are excited at the idea that the podcasts will take discussion and debate happening within ACS sessions outside, so that others can learn from, experience, and participate in the vital conversations related to race equality.
Communication plays a pivotal role in keeping ACS members and the wider school community informed and engaged. Tik Tok and Instagram are amongst the channels used, and a group chat allows committee members to quickly share ideas and coordinate efforts. This approach makes sure everyone is in the loop about upcoming events and activities.
When asked what difference being involved in the ACS has made to them as individuals, committee members reel off a list of valuable leadership skills they are honing. Social skills, negotiating, delegating, fundraising, organising, proposal writing, are some of these. They talk about operating outside of their comfort zone. There is mention of how they have conquered their fear of public speaking through activities they lead. The team collaborates with school staff and appreciates the positive, motivating response and support from parents, staff and other stakeholders. They view their experiences as committee members as excellent preparation for future endeavours.
The Afro Caribbean Society at Bexley Grammar School is a shining example of how powerful student voice can be in advancing the anti-racist agenda and creating inclusive, cohesive communities that champion diversity. Committee members proudly declare that their efforts are changing the school from within. They take seriously their role in working with others to generate understanding and raise awareness to break down barriers and achieve lasting change in the community.